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A breakdown of a recycling system in cells appears to be the underlying cause of a fatal nerve disease. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most common form of motor neuron disease, causes paralysis. A US team, writing in Nature, found the flaw in the way nerve cells in the brain recycle protein building blocks, which means cells cannot repair themselves and become damaged. Experts in the UK said that the findings were significant. ALS affects an estimated 350,000 people around the world, including children and adults, with about half of people dying within three years of its onset. The breakdown occurs in the recycling system in the nerve cells of the spinal cord and the brain. In order to function properly, the protein building blocks in the cells need to be recycled. But in ALS, that system is broken. The cell cannot repair or maintain itself and becomes severely damaged. The scientists found a protein, ubiquilin2, which should be directing the recycling process, does not work in people with ALS. BBC © 2011

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 15702 - Posted: 08.23.2011

People who smoke cigarettes or have smoked in the past may be more likely to develop Lou Gehrig's disease, according to a new study. The disease slowly kills the neurons that send messages between the brain and the rest of the body, causing patients to lose control of their muscles -- including those that are essential for eating and breathing. Most people who are diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, don't survive more than five years after the diagnosis. About 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States have ALS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While about 10 percent of those cases are caused by a genetic defect, the rest have no known cause. Some previous studies have suggested that smoking may be one factor that increases a person's risk of getting ALS, but others have found no link. "Results have been rather conflicting regarding the association between smoking and ALS," said Dr. Fang Fang, who has investigated the question at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, but was not involved with the current study. Many ALS researchers tend to agree on a positive association between cigarette smoking and ALS risk although some quite-recent studies still report no link, he told Reuters Health in an e-mail. In the current study, researchers led by Dr. Hao Wang of the Harvard School of Public Health collected data from five long-term studies in the United States that altogether included more than a million adults. In all of the studies, participants had been asked if they currently smoked or had smoked in the past, and if so, how frequently and for how many years. Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 15008 - Posted: 02.15.2011

By BINA VENKATARAMAN BOSTON — Tracking the inexorable advance of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the deadly neuromuscular ailment better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or A.L.S., has long been an inexact science — a matter of monitoring weakness and fatigue, making crude measurements of the strength of various muscles. This imprecision has hindered the search for drugs that could slow or block the disease’s progress. But now a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center here has won a $1 million prize — reportedly the largest ever for meeting a specific challenge in medical research — for developing a reliable way to quantify the small muscular changes that signal progressive deterioration. The winner, Dr. Seward Rutkove, showed that his method could cut in half the cost of clinical trials to screen potential drugs for the disease, said Melanie Leitner, chief scientific officer of Prize4Life, the nonprofit group that created the competition. The method does not provide a target in the body at which to aim drugs, nor will it help doctors better diagnose the disease. But Dr. Merit Cudkowicz, a professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and a chairwoman of the Northeast A.L.S. Consortium, compared Dr. Rutkove’s discovery to the way magnetic resonance imaging expedited the development of drugs for multiple sclerosis. “You can use this as a tool to screen drugs to see if they will affect survival,” she said, but added, “The ultimate prize is finding a drug that works for A.L.S.” © 2011 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 14957 - Posted: 02.05.2011

by Deborah Kotz No question that a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease -- as former Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci announced Thursday -- is devastating. The disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, targets the brain and spine, causing muscle weakness that progresses to complete paralysis. There's no cure, and it's always fatal, usually within a decade of diagnosis. Yet Cellucci, who's currently the US ambassador to Canada, says his ALS is progressing slowly: "I've had symptoms for four years," the 62-year-old told the Associated Press. He said he has some muscle weakness, but other than that, he's "feeling quite well." Of course, one of the most famous ALS sufferers, besides Lou Gehrig himself, is physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with the disease more than 45 years ago and is still living despite decades of complete paralysis. Some experts, though, say Hawking doesn't have true ALS but a similar type of motor neuron disease that progresses much more slowly. Unfortunately, no test can provide a definitive diagnosis of ALS, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Doctors make the diagnosis based on symptoms by looking at loss of nerve function in the limbs and ruling out other more common diseases.They also look for progression of symptoms over time. © 2011 NY Times Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 14839 - Posted: 01.07.2011

By ALLEN G. BREED JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — As she walked through the door, Sabrina Parker's big hazel eyes flared with surprise and she raised a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. She was a huge fan of the "Twilight" book and movie series, and her friends and family had transformed this greasy garage into a Sweet 16's dream. Homemade strobe lights illuminated walls decorated like the night sky and plastered with cast posters. All around were balloons in red, white and black. An enormous cake, iced to look like the chess board on one of the book jackets, held 16 blazing candles. The crowd began chanting for Sabrina to blow them out. She bent in close and blew, but the flames barely flickered. She straightened up and shook her head. Realizing her distress, Matt Scozzari stepped closer and told her they would do it together. On the count of three, they leaned in and snuffed them out together. In the three months since he'd first asked her out, Matt had noticed small changes in his girlfriend: The shortness of breath, the slurring in her speech, the weight loss. When he'd ask what was going on, Sabrina would just shrug it off as nothing serious. But Sabrina knew her condition was very serious. About a month after she started seeing Matt, Sabrina learned that she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease — the same illness that had killed her mother and grandmother. A doctor told Sabrina it wouldn't be long before she would have to decide whether to go on a ventilator. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 14803 - Posted: 12.20.2010

By Kay Lazar New research suggests that athletes who have had multiple head injuries, and possibly others such as military veterans exposed to repetitive brain traumas, may be prone to developing a disabling neurological disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A team of researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford said yesterday they have pinpointed evidence of a new disease that mimics ALS in the brains of two former National Football League players previously thought to have died of ALS. They also found the new disease in the brain of a deceased professional boxer who was a military veteran. In most cases, ALS strikes people — many in the prime of life — with no apparent rhyme or reason. The progressive nerve disorder, which affects an estimated 30,000 Americans, slowly paralyzes patients while leaving their mind intact. But if this early research is borne out by autopsies of additional athletes and veterans, it would support the idea that an ALS-type illness can be triggered by the traumas of sports and war. “We believe that these three cases are the tip of the iceberg,’’ said neurosurgeon Robert Cantu, who is a codirector of the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. “We don’t know whether this is linked to the increased incidence of ALS in the military, who are subject to blasts and other head injuries, but we are concerned that it may be.’’ The findings, the authors speculated, could mean that athletes and some others previously diagnosed with ALS actually had the related syndrome — perhaps even Gehrig himself, the New York Yankees star who is the iconic ALS sufferer. It’s a mystery that will never be solved, however, because Gehrig’s body was cremated. © 2010 NY Times Co

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 19: Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 15: Language and Our Divided Brain
Link ID: 14379 - Posted: 08.20.2010

By Kay Lazar CHELSEA — Steve Saling talks about being lucky and as happy as he has ever been, which might seem odd, given that Saling cannot speak, walk, or move his hands. His “voice’’ is the monotone of a computer, activated by an infrared beam he moves with almost imperceptible twitches of his head. The 41-year-old former landscape architect has Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive nerve disorder that slowly paralyzes patients while leaving their mind intact. They eventually lose the ability to even breathe, often within five years. Saling was diagnosed four years ago, a month after the birth of his son. Instead of despairing, he went into overdrive, determined to use technology to stay one step ahead of the relentless and usually lethal disease. Now he is blazing a path for many others. Through a chance encounter shortly after his diagnosis, he teamed up with Barry Berman, chief executive of the Chelsea Jewish Foundation, and helped to design the nation’s first residence for ALS patients needing nursing care. Using customized infrared technology, patients have far more independence than in a typical nursing home. Saling, who once specialized in making public parks accessible for disabled people, is its first resident. © 2010 NY Times Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 14354 - Posted: 08.14.2010

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR The first time the words “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” appeared in The New York Times was in 1876, in an advertisement for a medical text; the disease had first been described by a French doctor in 1869. The Times did not mention it again until Arthur Daley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist, reported on Lou Gehrig’s diagnosis in June 1939. The end of Gehrig’s record streak of 2,130 straight games came on May 2, but the explanation in The Times the next day was that Gehrig had “recognized his competitive decline” and that his withdrawal from the lineup “does not necessarily mean the end of his playing career.” A column by John Kieran the same day expressed certainty that “with a little rest he should begin to feel his oats again,” that all he really needed was “a breathing spell.” On June 2, a 120-word article on the sports page reported that Gehrig would be examined at the Mayo Clinic. Yet on June 12, with no public report about the results of the examination, Gehrig was back in the lineup for three innings in an exhibition game against the Kansas City Blues, a Yankee farm club. Finally on June 22, Daley, quoting Dr. H. C. Habein of the Mayo Clinic, wrote that the Iron Horse had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the first mention of the illness in the newspaper in 63 years. An Associated Press release printed below the article quoted the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association saying that A.L.S. was “a well-established scientific diagnosis of a condition in which there is a hardening of the tissues in the spinal column and a wasting of the muscles dependent upon it,” but although the doctor must have known the facts, he said nothing of a fatal prognosis. Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 13377 - Posted: 06.24.2010

By Steve Connor, Science Editor Human nerve cells carrying a critical mutation linked with motor neurone disease have been created in the laboratory for the first time from the skin cells of affected patients. The breakthrough could lead to new treatments for the debilitating disease. Scientists hope that mutated nerve cells, grown from a patient's skin cells after first being transformed into stem cells, will allow them to perform new types of laboratory experiments that will lead to a better understanding and possibly a cure for a disease that affects around 5,000 people in Britain and kills about five people every day. Research into motor neurone disease, a paralysis of the nervous system leading to the wasting of the muscles controlling breathing and swallowing, has been severely hampered by the lack of a good laboratory "model" of the disease. Growing human motor nerves – the cells that conduct messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles – carrying a mutation known as TDP-43 could open the way to finding the precise cause of the disorder as well as possible therapies that could prevent or slow damage to the nervous system, scientists said. "Being pragmatic, slowing down the disease is the first aim, stopping the disease the second, and the home run is to restore function," said Professor Siddharthan Chandran of the University of Edinburgh, the principal investigator on a new 800,000 research project. The team also includes Sir Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep. ©independent.co.uk

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 14101 - Posted: 06.24.2010

New York, New York ––A recent study directed by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggests a ketogenic- high caloric diet may prevent the progression of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). This study, which appears in the April 3, 2006 issue of BMC Neuroscience, is the first to draw a correlation between diet and neuronal cell death, the cause of ALS. ALS is an adult-onset neurodegenerative disorder in which spinal and cortical motor neurons die causing relentlessly progressive weakness and wasting of skeletal muscles through the body. "ALS is such a devastating disease for those individuals diagnosed with the disorder," said Giulio Maria Pasinetti, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Director of the Neuroinflammation Research Center at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine and lead author of this study. "The findings assert the significance of certain high caloric dietary intake in the prevention of ALS. In view of any available therapeutic application for the disease, this new evidence might bring hope to those affected." The cause of neuronal death in ALS is uncertain but study researchers say mitochondrial dysfunction plays an important role. Ketones promote mitochondrial energy production and membrane stabilization. Mitochondiral membrane dysfunction, loss of oxidative stress control, generation of excessive free radicals, neurofilament accumulation, and excitotoxicity are all implicated in the onset of ALS.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 8791 - Posted: 06.24.2010

Bethesda, MD – A new study indicates that mutant Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1) enzymes that are associated with an inherited form of Lou Gehrig's disease cause the protein to become sticky in tissues. Partial unfolding of the mutant protein can expose hydrophobic residues that may promote abnormal interactions with other proteins or membranes in the cell. The research appears as the "Paper of the Week" in the August 19 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, an American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology journal. Over 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease each year. About 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time, and 10% of cases are inherited. "Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disorder in which neurons of the motor pathways in the brain and spinal cord die," explains Dr. Lawrence J. Hayward of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. "It typically strikes during middle age, and although it may start with only mild weakness, the symptoms can spread insidiously over months to impair mobility, speech and swallowing, and ultimately the muscles required for respiration." Despite the prevalence of ALS, the biological mechanisms that kill the motor neurons in most patients are incompletely understood. However, for a fraction of inherited ALS patients, mutations in the gene for SOD1 cause the disease by creating a toxic enzyme. Evidence suggests that misfolding or partial unfolding of mutant SOD1 proteins in these patients might be key to the toxicity.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 7767 - Posted: 06.24.2010

ST. Paul, Minn. – Contrary to what you might think, most people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are not depressed. They are also not more likely to get depressed as the end of life approaches, and they are not more likely to be depressed if they want to die or hasten their own death. Two new studies, published in the July 12 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, provide the evidence to contradict these assumptions. The two studies involved the same group of 80 people with advanced ALS. To enter the study, participants had to have breathing difficulties with a forced vital capacity, or breathing power, of less than 50 percent of normal, which is related to a high likelihood of hospice admission and death or the need for mechanical ventilation within six months. The participants were assessed every month until death; 53 of the participants died during the study period. The first study found that 57 percent of the participants were never depressed during the study period, and only eight percent were depressed at all visits. The researchers also found that people were not more likely to become depressed as death approached. "It's remarkable that a majority of ALS patients have a more positive attitude toward life even as the inevitability of death is imminent," Catherine Lomen-Hoerth, MD, PhD, wrote with her colleague and mentor Richard K. Olney, MD, in an accompanying editorial. Olney was founder and director of the ALS Treatment and Research Center at the University of California-San Francisco before he was diagnosed with ALS in 2004 and turned over the reins to Lomen-Hoerth, his former student.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 7629 - Posted: 06.24.2010

Proteomic signature for ALS identified MILAN, Italy, – Detection of protein abnormalities in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may allow physicians to more rapidly diagnose and better monitor drug efficacy in clinical trials for the disease, according to a novel study presented by a University of Pittsburgh researcher in Milan, Italy, today. These findings may lead to the first test for early stage ALS, also know as Lou Gehrig's disease. The study, presented by Robert Bowser, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine at the 11th annual meeting of the International Alliance of ALS/MND Associations and 14th International Symposium on ALS/MND, identified ALS-specific biomarkers by protein profiling of cerebrospinal fluid from 25 ALS patients and 35 control subjects.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 4554 - Posted: 06.24.2010

– Our cells are constantly making life and death decisions. A new gene that controls this life or death switch and protects cells from dying has been discovered by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as reported in the August 28 edition of the scientific journal Nature. The discovery may provide scientists with new means for identifying drugs that combat degenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), the destructive effects of stroke and heart diseases, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. Chilling though it sounds, our cells are poised on the brink of death. Yet the ongoing death of some of our cells is actually essential for us to live. "Death, that is to say cell death, is a key player in biology and medicine," said Joel Rothman, professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and leader of the UCSB research team. "Cells often commit suicide so that others may live. This is the ultimate example of altruism at the cellular level." Copyright © 2003 Board of Regents of the University of California

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 4178 - Posted: 06.24.2010

St. Paul, MN –Fifty-year-old museum specimens of the Guamanian flying fox may shed more light on why Guam’s Chamorro people once had an extremely high incidence of ALS-parkinsonism dementia complex (ALS/PDC). At the same time, the study, supported by the ALS Association, introduces the role that biomagnification of neurotoxins might play in the development of symptoms similar to those of ALS, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The Chamorro people once had an incidence rate of ALS-parkinsonism dementia complex that was 50 to 100 times higher than the rate of ALS elsewhere. The decline in the incidence of ALS/PDC among the Chamorro mirrored the decline of the population of flying foxes (a type of bat), by the 1960s and 1970s. Researchers report in the August 12 issue of Neurology that skin tissues of the flying foxes contained elevated quantities of BMAA (-methylamino-L-alanine), a non-protein amino acid that has shown to kill neurons in cell culture, and is believed to be a possible cause of ALS/PDC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 4136 - Posted: 06.24.2010

Maybe you really are what you eat. This would solve the long-time mystery of why so many of Guam's Chamorro people – up to a third per village -- suffered a devastating neurological disease. A new study suggests that they gorged on flying fox bats that in turn had feasted on neurotoxin-laden cycad seeds. "Through the consumption of cycad-fed flying foxes, the Chamorro people may have unwittingly ingested large quantities of cycad neurotoxins," say Clark Monson of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Sandra Banack of California State University, Fullerton, and Paul Cox of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kalaheo, Hawaii, in the June issue of Conservation Biology. Guam's indigenous Chamorro people historically had a high incidence of a neurological disease with similarities to Lou Gehrig's, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Called ALS-PDC (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-Parkinsonian dementia complex), the disease's symptoms range from muscle weakness and paralysis to dementia. The rate of ALS-PDC has been as much as 100 times higher in Guam's Chamorro people than in the continental U.S.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 3839 - Posted: 06.24.2010

ST. PAUL, MN – Researchers have discovered abnormalities in the chromosomes of several patients with sporadic, or non-hereditary, ALS, according to a study published in the April 22 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive disease of the nervous system also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Five to 10 percent of ALS cases are hereditary, and researchers have identified several genes that are linked to the disease. In sporadic ALS, researchers have identified several genetic risk factors for the disease, but much remains to be discovered about the role genetics play in the disease. This study examined the chromosomes of 85 people in Germany with sporadic ALS. Five people had chromosomal abnormalities, for a rate of 5.9 percent.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 3721 - Posted: 06.24.2010

TROY, NY - The cause of Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) has remained elusive since it brought down one of baseball's greatest players 60 years ago. According to Wilfredo "Freddie" Coln, ALS starts "when good proteins go bad." Understanding just why they go bad is a necessary first step toward developing medicines that will help ALS patients live with a manageable disease instead of a death sentence. The Rensselaer biochemist's vital research has recently earned a $1 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. Copyright © 1996–2001 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 1746 - Posted: 06.24.2010

Results Hold Possibilities For Treating Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease HOUSTON, Jan. 18, 2002 – New research from University of Houston scientists may lead to techniques for jump-starting the faulty "wiring" in damaged nerve cells, and suggests possible avenues for treating spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. University of Houston scientists studying how spinal nerve cells in chicken embryos develop and function have found that chemicals called growth factors play a key role in regulating how embryonic nerve cells acquire the ability to start processing information. "In some cases, when nerves are damaged or succumb to neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Parkinson’s, they don’t die, but they quit working and may actually revert to an immature embryonic-like state," says Stuart Dryer, a neuroscientist in the department of biology and biochemistry at UH. Embryonic nerve cells are able to fire electrical impulses shortly after the cells have divided for the last time – after they are "born." But these impulses are extremely generic, and not necessarily specialized for the kind of information the cell is going to eventually process, Dryer says.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 1368 - Posted: 06.24.2010

By Katie Moisse Sprawling blooms of cyanobacteria have swathed the surfaces of lakes and oceans around the world for billions of years. But the serene, blue-green algae may be leaching a neurotoxin into the aquatic food chain, according to a study published May 3 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( PNAS ). The report revived a nearly 50-year-old debate over the role, if any, of the toxin in the process of neurodegeneration. In the wake of World War II a deadly neurological disease plagued the small island of Guam. The natives called it lytico-bodig (from the Spanish paralytico, meaning weakness) and it had features of Lou Gehrig's (ALS), Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Endemic to the native population (called Chamorros), the syndrome was 100 times more prevalent on Guam than anywhere else. After ruling out a genetic cause, scientists began the hunt for an environmental trigger that made Chamorros, but not immigrants, susceptible. A staple of the local cuisine raised suspicion. Chamorros made tortillas using flour ground from the seeds of cycads—plants often confused for ferns or palms and distantly related to both. The seeds were meticulously washed to remove toxins, such as beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), produced by cyanobacteria that inhabit cycad roots. Scientists wondered if BMAA could be causing neurodegeneration, but the concentrations ingested by the Chamorros were not sufficient to harm neurons in animal models. Huge concentrations, however, were. © 2010 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 14121 - Posted: 06.24.2010